Thursday, December 21, 2006


On a normal visit to the mall it usually takes me at least 15 minutes or so for the stress levels to amplify and cortisol to flow like the Nile. But around the Christmas shopping season, I'm sweating bullets long before I ever walk in the door. Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic in the parking lot, while waiting for the next miserable mall patron to harrass and follow to their parking spot is enough to make anyone long for a sharp piece of glass to jam in their retina.

Finally inside I realize that I forgot how hot the mall gets, especially this time of year, and now I have to lug my enormous hip hop style puffy winter jacket with me for next hour. Of course I could run it back out to the car but once I enter the war zone I like to get down to business and get out as quickly as possible. A mad dash in the cold would only extend my time of suffering.

I pull my hat lower and keep my sunglasses on to avoid the possiblity of any awkward exchanges with someone I haven't seen in the last three to ten years. You know how those go...

"Hey...Mike? How's everything?"

"Good. And you?"

"Great, thanks."

"So what's new, what have you been up to?"


"Oh yeah?"

"What about you?" (please say "nothing", please say "nothing.")

"Not much, same old shit."

Whew, thank God. He needs to be stuck here talking to me like he needs a hole in his head and is telling me so in not so direct terms. I couldn't be happier.

"Ok well I gotta get running here, good seeing you, Merry Christmas."

"You too, Jay, take care."

With that close call out of the way I'm off to buy presents. Three highly succesful hours later, I'm ready to leave. On my way out I realize that I need a new pair of jeans and should grab some while I'm here.

I pile into the dressing room with my stash of bags and proceed to try on four different jeans. When you have squatted and deadlifted for a number of years, you know how difficult it can be to find jeans. Everyone who has ever trained in my gym always had this same problem. The legs and ass are too tight and the waist is too big. The other thing is you can't fit in any jeans from a lot of stores. Anything trendy like Diesel aint happening.

I peel off my cargo pants which are now glued to my leg with sweat; the byproduct of three stress filled hours of shopping, and try on the first pair of jeans. They come to a complete halt at mid quad. I start to sweat more.

Next pair comes to my hips but is never going to make it over my ass unless I get a size 46 waist. I feel the sweat drip off my eyelids.

At this point I know I'm in the wrong store and decide I have had enough of the mall for one day. I strip to my boxers and fan myself down in the dressing room for a second before getting dressed to leave. I look in the mirror and notice that it's one of those dressing rooms that has the "posing light" which makes you look way more jacked than you really are. You know, the one small spotlight that shines straight down on you from directly above your head. It casts the perfect shadows, so even though you are smooth and dehydrated from not drinking any water during the three hour sweat fest and are bloated from the pizza you grabbed cuz it was the only thing in the mall to eat, you suddenly look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, only 50 pounds more muscular. It's not till you get home to the stark white light of your bathroom that you realize that the holiday season has you left you more closely resembling Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond, than Brad Pitt from Fight Club, but I digress.

Finally I was able to peel myself away from the mirror and head back out into the cold. I began the hand signal game with a few of the cars waiting outside to direct them to where I was parked. When I got in the car and pulled out I tried to think of the last time I could buy jeans with ease and was the cause of my plight. One thing came to mind: squats.

If you want big legs you have got to squat. For the first few years of your training you should squat, squat and squat some more. Everyone's goal should be to squat double bodyweight, at least. And I'm talking about real, full squats, at least to parallel.

Let's briefly talk form for a second. A perfect squat should look like this:
Grab the bar with an even grip, wider than shoulder width. Be sure to squeeze it as hard as you can.
Duck under it and jam your shoulder blades as far back as you can.
The bar should sit on your traps, not the top of your spine or your neck.
By keeping your hands in a little closer you can create a bigger shelf for the bar to sit on. By close I mean 6-10 inches wider than shoulder width. If you have shoulder problems, this is not an option and you will need to grab the bar wider. Never grab the bar with an extremely close grip.
With your head up and back arched, unrack the weight and take two steps back.
Before beginning your descent be sure to take a deep breath and fill your belly with air. Basically you want to push your abs out as far as you can.
With your chest up and back arched, you are now going to push out on the sides of your feet like you are trying to spread the floor.
To begin your descent, break at the hips by pushing your glutes back as far as you can and then squatting down as low as you can go without losing the arch in your back and allowing your butt to tuck under.
This may be to parallel or it may be all the way to the floor (known in some circles as "ass to the grass" or even worse, the acroynm, "ATG." If you use this terminology your manhood will be revoked in all 50 states for five years, minimum).
On the way up, be sure to lead with your head, chest high, drive your elbows forward and under the bar and push your hips forward.

Normal back squats should be your bread and butter but here is a list of other excellent squat variations that you should include in your workouts:
  • Back squat
  • Front squat
  • Safety bar squat
  • Cambered bar squat
  • Box squat
  • Safety bar box squat
  • Cambered bar box squat
  • Belt squat
  • Power squat machine
Beginnners can often squat three times per week. Intermediates will do better squatting once or twice a week and advanced guys should squat once every 7-10 days.

Be sure to include a variety of sets and reps in your squat workouts and always focus on maximizing your recovery.

How do you know if you're squatting enough?

If you can buy jeans at Banana Republic, you're not.